Wednesday, August 20, 2008

More fiction from The New York Times

There has been another tragic death of a child "known to the system" in New York City. A two-year-old boy died under what are, so far, mysterious circumstances, a month after being returned to his home in Queens.

That gave the The New York Times the chance to regurgitate the fiction that has driven the paper's coverage of child welfare for nearly three years now. According to the Times:

New York City has fluctuated on the rigors of the threshold it uses to determine when a home is so dangerous that a child must be taken from it. In the late 1990s, the city began pursuing a policy of leaving children in homes whenever possible. But beginning in the fall of 2005, there were several cases in which children from homes that had had dealings with children's services ended up dying at the hands of a parent. The most notorious case was that of Nixzmary Brown, who was beaten to death by her stepfather in January 2006. Child welfare officials began tightening standards again, and this spring, New York City enacted a policy that allows the authorities to remove newborns from their parents' homes in all but an 'extraordinary instance' if the parents previously had children taken from their custody and their case is still open.

The part that is pure fiction is the part that says there were several deaths of children known-to-the-system beginning in the fall of 2005. In fact, the rate at which children "known to the system" were dying at that time was no different from the rate of such deaths all the way back to 1993. Nothing had changed at all, for better or for worse. But, just as in today's story, the Times used the deaths in the fall of 2005 to create a phony link between such fatalities and efforts to keep families together.

The result was a huge surge in removals of children – which, of course, overloaded the system and led to caseworkers missing more children in real danger. There was a real change in the rate of deaths of children known-to-the-system in 2006 – they went way up, in fact they set a record. But as I've noted before, the newspaper of record has never put that record in the newspaper. More significantly, more reliable indicators of child safety, reabuse of children and foster-care recidivism have worsened as removals have surged. (The stats are available in NCCPR's report on New York City child welfare.)

Longtime readers of this Blog know that the reporter who keeps offering up this fiction did, once, attempt to justify her claims about a series of deaths beginning in the fall of 2005. "It was a series," she explained during a panel discussion the following year, "but not statistically."